- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
- 0 Shares
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Not that the Los Angeles Kings need more help, but Jeff Carter's Game 2 hat trick could be a sign of things to come for the former 46-goal scorer.
Somewhat lost in the Kings' 10-1 postseason run was that their blockbuster acquisition from late February entered Game 2 against the Phoenix Coyotes with one goal in 10 playoff games.
Not the kind of production the Kings were banking on when they sent Jack Johnson and a first-round pick to Columbus. To be fair, Carter did enter the playoffs banged up with a suspected ankle injury. Still, he certainly hopes his hat trick means he's no longer snake-bitten in these playoffs.
"I hope so," Carter said after Game 2, laughing. "Yeah, I mean, obviously I'd love to be scoring every game. They haven't come that easily for me the last little while here. It's something
that I've been working on in practice, trying to get to the net during the game, get a couple greasy ones. I was lucky enough [Tuesday night].''
Playing on the second line with center Mike Richards and left winger Dustin Penner, Carter is beginning to find his groove. Kings assistant coach John Stevens knows what that looks like, having coached Carter in Philadelphia.
"He's moved from the middle to the wing, which is something he's done before but never on a full-time basis," Stevens told ESPN.com after Game 2. "He's really welcomed that opportunity to play with Mike. I think it's really helped [Anze Kopitar's] line, too, because it gives us a real scoring threat on a couple of lines now. Guys like Jeff, even when they're not scoring, they're helping your team win in other ways. He's been a good penalty killer for us, he's been a good 200-foot player. But clearly he wants to score, that's what he takes pride in. We know his game has been coming as of late, so it's nice to see him get on the board three times.''
Not everyone is impressed, however. A Western Conference pro scout said before the hat trick that Carter "was playing a perimeter game without wide speed; shot's always dangerous and uses it often; almost too much, as he became somewhat predictable."
But just Carter's presence since the trade has helped bring balance to the Kings' offensive attack, taking a bit of heat off Kopitar's top line and helping everyone relax after the Kings squeezed their sticks most of the regular season, when they were 29th in offense.
So even if Carter hasn't lit up the lamp the way he can, his mere addition has had the teamwide effect the Kings were looking for.
"He's been playing hard for this team," Kopitar said. "There's people that are probably criticizing him for not scoring, but he's brought to the table a lot more than just goal scoring. He's working hard, and he's a big part of this team. He got rewarded with three [Tuesday night], and it's really good for him, because he's been around the net for quite a lot of time and just hasn't got the bounces. This time they bounced for him.''
Carter won't lie; he's a goal scorer, so his low goal total was grating on him.
"You're obviously thinking about it," he said. "It's always in the back of your mind. I tried to keep patient and keep working in practice,
like I said, during the games trying to get to the net, trying to get a couple good bounces there. Lucky enough to get a couple [Tuesday night]. It's a good start.''
There's always an adjustment when a player switches teams late in a season -- some get over it more quickly than others. The advantage for the Kings is that Stevens and Carter can bank on their relationship from Philadelphia to help the process.
"Yeah, I think it helps," Stevens said. "I think in coaching you need good relationships with your players just to be demanding on them. It's easy to go to Jeff and tell him some things we see in his game and tell him what he's doing well and what he needs more of. He's been awesome about it.''
If Carter gets on a roll now, you have to wonder just how opposing teams are going to muzzle this Kings offense, ranked third in the playoffs at 3.18 goals per game.
The Kings have been on an incredible roll this spring. Now they might just get a little more potent.
Jeff Carter's return to form could be the difference in the series with the Coyotes, writes Pierre LeBrun.